Kurt Helin

LeBron James

LeBron sees people questioning his efficiency, raises them with 2-1 series lead

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Through three games, LeBron James has 123 points — the most of anyone in NBA history through three Finals games. One more than Rick Barry in 1975, a couple more than the logo himself Jerry West back in 1969. LeBron’s 41 points a game average so far ties Michael Jordan’s highest-scoring Finals average. LeBron has scored these points while dragging a group of role players who, on paper, shouldn’t still be playing in June, to a 2-1  series in the NBA Finals.

And yet, because he’s LeBron James, there is criticism of his play.

LeBron has not been efficient getting all those points, shooting just 40.2 percent. The Cavaliers offense hasn’t been efficient this series with him scoring like this. LeBron acknowledged that criticism, then reminded everyone to check the scoreboard.

“I’m not okay with it, but I’m so outside the box right now,” LeBron said of his shooting percentage after Game 3. “I went seven straight seasons with improving my efficiency. Seven straight into this year, the previous seven seasons, seven straight seasons with improving my efficiency as far as shooting. But this is a different challenge. This is a totally different challenge. I’ve never played where two All-Stars were out. So it’s a different challenge for myself, and it’s outside the box, but it’s not too far. It’s not far for me to go grab….

“I’m high volume shooting, but it’s not like I’m going out there and I’m high volume shooting and I’m not doing anything else. I’m doing everything for our team to help our team win, and that’s all that matters.”

Everything, such as defending key guys every possession, or grabbing better than 12 rebounds and dishing out better than eight assists per game.

What we know about shooting efficiency is that it decreases the more offense a player has to take on, the higher the usage rate. LeBron’s usage rate through three Finals games is a crazy-high 42.4 — he has had to take on a ridiculously high percentage of the Cavaliers offensive load.

More than just the points (and rebounds, and assists), he’s controlling the tempo of the entire series — the average Finals game this series has had 93.7 possessions, that’s seven fewer possessions than the Warriors averaged during the regular season.

“He’s playing and we’re playing the way we want to play,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said.

If you ask the other guys on the court, LeBron is also lifting up his teammates.

“I mean, LeBron [James] is playing well.” Draymond Green said. “First it was really just him playing well, but now everybody else has kind of fallen in line.”

“He’s playing great basketball for us, and we’re just getting on his shoulders and just riding him through the game,” Tristan Thompson added.

LeBron understands efficiency, but he’s had to sacrifice that in the name of getting enough points on the board to get wins. The idea that the Cavaliers’ offense couldn’t be much worse without him is fanciful — the Warriors had the best defense in the NBA all season and have played well these Finals. It is the Cavaliers defense that is the biggest key to their success.

But if LeBron isn’t putting up these points, the Cavaliers would be losing low-scoring games, not winning them.

Cavaliers’ defend, hustle, hang on for Game 3 win, take control of NBA Finals

LeBron James
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Stephen Curry found his shot in the fourth quarter — he had 17 points and was 5-of-8 in the final frame, and the Warriors as a team hung 36 up. Curry made it interesting down to the final minute. In the second half, he had 24 points on 14 shots. He finally started to look like the MVP.

But the Cavaliers defense had already put the Warriors in a hole so deep Curry could not shoot them out.

Through three quarters the feisty Cavaliers held the Warriors to 35 percent shooting and 5-of-20 from three, led by 20 at one point in the third quarter, and had seemed to get in the Warriors’ heads.

Combine that with 40 points from LeBron James and 20 from Matthew Dellavedova and you have enough for Cleveland to hang on for a 96-91 win. The Cavaliers now lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 in their building on Thursday.

“I don’t think our guys gave in, and I don’t think that they let up. Golden State  made some plays,  made some shots, which they are capable of doing,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said of the Warriors’ fourth quarter. “I thought we let down a little bit on the offensive end and that put us in a back up kind of mode. We weren’t as aggressive as we were.”

While the fourth quarter made it interesting, the Cavaliers won the game in the third quarter. That’s when they cranked up the defense, and the wheels seemed to come off the Warriors. Golden State had just 18 points on 8-of-21 shooting. Meanwhile on the other end the Warriors’ defense, which had been solid all series, started to show some crack. Cleveland got 13 points from LeBron in the third, and their lead stretched out to 20 points at one point. At the end of the quarter, it was 72-55 Cleveland, and they had taken control of the game. And it felt like maybe the series.

“You want to show some fight and I thought in the third quarter we were hanging our head a little bit,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It was good to see us bring some fight to the game. That’s how we have to play the whole way through.”

However, Golden State opened the fourth on an 8-0 run, and things got interesting as the Warriors started to just hit shots throughout the quarter. The lead fell all the way to one, 81-80, after a Curry three.

That’s when Dellavadova made a circus floater in the lane for an and-one. He had struggled early in the night with his shot, he and Draymond Green got in a little battle of hard hits (Delly’s was a little low), but Dellavedova continued to defend hard all night and hit shots when needed. Then down the stretch he was the first guy on the ground to get loose balls.

After the Dellavedova shot, Curry turned the ball over on a behind-the-back pass — he expected Green to pop after a pick, but Green has stopped thinking about threes he’s been so cold.

AP

Then LeBron hit a three, and it felt like the dagger. Even some more big Curry shots were just not going to be enough.

The fourth quarter was the polar opposite of the first half, which had been exactly the kind of half Cavaliers wanted — defensive, grinding, holding the Warriors to 3-of-16 from three and their starters to 6-of-27 shooting. It was 44-37 Cavaliers at the half. Curry was 1-of-6.

Cavaliers get off to a 12-5 lead to start, but the key was all 12 points came in the paint. They attacked while the Warriors were still running a lot of one-pass, easy to defend offense. LeBron was clearly emotional to start the game — a Finals game back at home — and he carried the offensive load, but was 6-of-17 shooting for 13 points in the first half.

It was the role players for the Cavs again early: LeBron and Dellavedova shot 5-of-17 to start the game, Every other Cavalier was 6-of-6. Tristan Thompson was fantastic again in the first quarter with six points and seven rebounds.

The Warriors got a little roll player help as well — Andre Iguodala had 15 points and was Golden State’s best player with 15, David Lee came in and found a chemistry with Curry on the pick-and-roll, and Lee had 11 points.

“I think what helped (Curry in the fourth quarter) was David Lee as the roll man,” Kerr said. “Steph was able to find David and that softened them up a little bit, David was terrific.”

In the end, Tristan Thompson had 10 points and 13 rebounds, and J.R. Smith added 10 points. They pitched in a little.

But it is LeBron carrying this Cavaliers team — not efficiently, but with their defense he hasn’t had to be. He just has to get up points.

The Cavaliers did that again Tuesday night and now are in control of the series. However, the fourth quarter showed they still have a lot of work to do — the Warriors will not go quietly.

Draymond Green shoulders Dellavedova to ground, Delly responds with low blow (VINE)

2015 NBA Finals - Game Three
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This play is pretty much a Rorschach test for your fandom in this series — fans from both sides will see the other team as making the cheap play.

It starts in a transition situation when Stephen Curry cuts right, and Draymond Green stops short to give Matthew Dellavedova a hard shoulder to the ground as he tried to track Curry. That could have/should have been a foul (moving screen at the least).

Dellavedova responded with a low blow, catching Green in the hips and maybe a little lower. The people who think Delly is a dirty player are going to point to this.

Draymond Green’s mom is in that camp.

It will be interesting to see if the league responds to this with fines or flagrants on Wednesday.

Festus Ezeli blocks Matthew Dellavedova shot into fifth row (VIDEO)

2015 NBA Finals - Game Three
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Matthew Dellavedova is more than a cult favorite in Cleveland now — he had the second loudest pregame ovation when the starters were introduced.

But he struggled on the offensive end to start the game, he was 2-of-9 shooting — and Festus Ezeli did this to him.

That said, Dellavedova is doing his usual good job frustrating Stephen Curry, who started 1-of-6 shooting. He’s doing his job.

Robert Horry on Charles Barkley: “A guy who doesn’t like to practice, a guy who doesn’t work hard”

Vancouver Grizzlies v Houston Rockets
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Apparently Robert Horry and Bobby Knight have something in common: They are not in the Charles Barkley the player fan club.

Horry was a starter on the “Clutch City” Houston championship teams of 1994 and 1995 as an ahead-of-his-time floor spacing big man knocking down threes. But just before the 1996-97 season, he was shipped out to Phoenix as part of a trade that brought Barkley to Phoenix to pair with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. That team never got past the Utah Jazz.

Horry landed on his feet — he was with the Lakers before the end of the 1997 season and won three more rings there, before picking up a couple more with the Spurs — but speaking with HuffPost Live he showed he was still a little bitter about that trade.

“Now they bring in Barkley, a guy who doesn’t like to practice, a guy who doesn’t work hard… And you would have added us to the mix so it’s two vets and two young, we would’ve had a great team. But no, they think, ‘we’re going to bring in Charles.’ But hell you just realize Charles didn’t win anything in Phoenix, he didn’t win anything in Philly. And sometimes, you know, great players don’t make a great team better.”

Ouch. So you’re saying Barkley isn’t a winner?

“No, I wouldn’t say that. I would just say he brings a different element to a team. And sometimes you have too many chefs in the kitchen — think about it, you had Clyde, you had Dream, and then you had Charles — those are three scorers, and there’s only one basketball. Most teams only have 2 good scorers… and I think he was just too much for that team.”

Horry’s point that there needs to be a fit with role players was as true then as it is proving to be in the current NBA Finals (where both teams have role players who perfectly fit what they want to accomplish). You can have too many stars who don’t fit in the system smoothly. (And in today’s NBA, too many stars makes it hard to put the right players around them to win.)

But to say Barkley didn’t work hard… that’s not the guy I saw on the court most nights.